The Judgment of the Nations and the Fall of Jerusalem
One of the most common objections to Covenant Eschatology is that the fall of Jerusalem was far too local of an event to qualify for the end of the age.
In several public debates my opponents have offered this argument, claiming for instance, “Why would the citizens of Athens, or Rome, or Corinth, etc. be concerned with the destruction of Jerusalem, an isolated outpost in Judea?” I have responded by asking why those self same people would have been concerned with the death of a rabble rousing Jew, they have had no answer! In addition, ironically, many of those who offer this objection agree that AD 70 was the end of the Old Covenant age! Or, they even argue that Israel’s age ended at the Cross. Well, how “local” of an event was the Cross?
The sad reality is that those who make the “AD 70 was too local” argument simply do not grasp the incredible significance of that event. As I show in my series of articles on Matthew 24:14, the message of the impending fall of Jerusalem and the temple was designated, by Jesus himself, as “the gospel of the kingdom.”
A corollary to the “AD 70 was too local” argument, it is commonly argued that AD 70 was simply the judgment of Israel for killing Jesus and his followers. However, we are told, the real end of the age judgment is when the nations – the pagan nations – are judged and we are assured that this did not happen in AD 70.
For instance, we are told that Matthew 25:31f must refer to an “end of time” scenario, because it speaks of all the nations being gathered for the great Assize. But, look a little closer, and particularly, look at what Jesus had to say about the judgment of the nations in Matthew 11:20-24:
“Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”
What we have here is Jesus linking the judgment of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom with the judgment of Chorazin and Bethsaida. It would be more tolerable for those cities than the cities of Israel “in the day of judgment.”
Now, Tyre and Sidon were pagan cities. They were truly “Gentile / pagan.” And, surely no one would argue that Sodom was an Israelite city. There is simply no way to properly, truthfully consider these cities as “Israelite” cities. (There were no Jews or Israelites in the days of Sodom!) Only the most radical, presuppositional, desperate individuals would deny this or assert otherwise. So, the Day of Judgment would see the cities of Israel and these pagan cities judged! By the way, Sodom had ceased to exist centuries before Jesus spoke. Yet, he linked the judgment of the cities of Israel with the judgment of Sodom!
Notice now Matthew 12:41f
“The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.”
In 2018, Steve Baisden, a friend from Michigan, debated Drew Leonard on the issue of the coming of the Lord in AD 70. Baisden appealed to both Matthew 11 and 12 as proof of the judgment of the nations in AD 70. Leonard responded by claiming that these two passages say that the nations would rise up “with” Israel in the judgment, but, they would not rise up “in that generation.” As we shall see, that is a specious argument.
So, what do we have here in Matthew 11-12? We have the judgment of Nineveh – a pagan city. We have the judgment of “the queen of the south”- another “pagan.” We have the judgment of Sodom. When would that be? At the same time as the judgment Jerusalem / Israel of that generation!
So, what is our point here?
There is no question that the judgment of the nations is at the end of the age– in all futurist paradigms. That is beyond dispute. We are told that Matthew 25:31f is proof of this. Likewise, we are told that the judgment of the nations is the time when all prophecy would be fulfilled; all things written would be fulfilled.
Well, we have shown that it is indisputably clear that the nations – and that included the non-Jewish nations, even nations that extended centuries in the past from the first century -were to be judged at the same time as Israel! That included nations that existed before there was even “Israel!”
In light of these facts, consider the following words of Jesus in Matthew 23:31-36:
“Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”
Jesus said that Jerusalem / Israel would be judged in that generation. No one denies this. But, that is not the whole story. Look closer. All of the blood, of all the righteous, all the way back to Creation would also be judged in that event! So, just how local was that judgment of Jerusalem? This text effectively negates the “argument” that is often given that the AD 70 judgment was “too local to matter. No one cared. It just did not matter.” That argument will not stand.
So, what we find then is that when Jesus said in Luke 21:22- “these be the days of vengeance in which all things that are written must be fulfilled” it is totally inappropriate to limit the extent of that fulfillment of Vengeance to Israel and Jerusalem. That vengeance / judgment spanned all the time and the nations back to Creation. It encompassed the pagan nations! It truly was the fulfillment of all things written!
Notice the language of Luke 21:25f. Jesus said that in the war:
“And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
Now, just how “local” does this sound? Was Jesus describing an event that basically did not matter to anyone? I suggest that it is a failure to grasp the utter centrality of Jerusalem and God’s covenant relationship with Judah / Israel that has and does lead to a depreciating of the significance of the end of the Old Covenant age.
AD 70 was in fact the time of the judgment of the nations. There is no future coming of the Lord at the so-called end of time.
The results of that judgment, the results and on-going blessings of the fulfillment of God’s promises are unending. We should rejoice that He kept His word and defeated all of His enemies. He rules and reigns forever and forever!